THE MAN IS after our females. Despite whatever theories may surface to the contrary, you should know this much is true. When it happens, Greta and Cupcake are wandering the sanctuary somewhere with their sweet hairy chimpanzee asses exposed. And there is this man there, just waiting, just waiting to violate them. There are things that are wrong, and we know them. We know them without knowing them. We know them the moment we spot the man there by the pen where Howard is kept, chattering in his stupid tone of familiarity. The man pretends he is here for Howard. He pretends he is not interested in our females. He is a very good pretender.
He does not have us fooled.
I am Sampson. My brother is Grover. We have two females and they are named Greta and Cupcake and we know that they are ours. They have the sweet hairy chimpanzee asses that we love, the asses that exist just for us, for whenever we get the feeling that we need them. These are our females. They belong with the chimpanzees and we live all together in our mesh box. Overhead, there is a network of rails and bars. These are for swinging. For hanging upside down. For stretching our long arms and pulling ourselves toward the sky.
Among our objections, the following is foremost. The females are our concern. They are a concern of the great apes. Theirs is not for a human to violate. Theirs is not for a human to claim. Their sweet hairy chimpanzee asses that excite us so. These belong to us.
We are chimpanzees, and our arms are strong. We know we are correct.
THERE ARE THOSE among the humans that we tolerate. There is Glen, whose long stretch of a body folds in on itself as if it were made from fronds and weeds. Glen, whose hideous pink face is partially hidden in brown fur. The brown fur that is one reason we put up with him.
There is Arnold, who cleans the feces from the places we deposit it. Arnold, whose face is a naked offense of skin. He smells always of our excrement, which to our consternation sometimes excites the females. It is our waste. He does not deserve the credit.
Of course there is Melinda. Melinda, who erects these cages and keeps us imprisoned. She makes her bed in the trailer near the parking lot and she likes to tell us what to do.
Sometimes we wrap our fingers through the metallic links of the fencing and gaze longingly at the trees beyond the hill. They call to us, these trees. They whisper, Hey there, chimpanzees, come on and hang out with us. There is contentment in our canopies.
We do not answer, for what would we say? Stop taunting us, trees?
We miss you, too?
Melinda must weigh more than eight chimpanzees combined. She impresses us, this vast thing of a human, her pendulous breasts settling like sacks of grain against her ribs. She saunters her bulk into the pen and says, How are my misters and ladies this afternoon? Her hair waves at us, fiercely, its tresses so gold they are almost white. When her hair hits the sunlight it sparkles like a coin. We like sparkly things. Oh, do we ever. Sometimes I am so impressed by Melinda that I climb in her arms and hug her. I wrap my legs around her side. I pull her golden hair gently and I say, Please, Melinda, do not hurt us.
There are times it feels right to get up in the arms of Melinda. We retrieve the fruit she offers and let her examine the hair on our backs. And there are times that this behavior makes us feel so very ashamed of ourselves. At these times, when Melinda holds me, I can hear the sound of the air in the trees beyond the hill, and it goes whisper, whisper, whisper so that all poor chimpanzees might hear it. At these times, I know we are better than this.
At these times, when Melinda leaves us, I take Greta or Cupcake from behind and I remind them who is the boss of the operation.
ACROSS THE WAY there is Howard. He has been there for years. We know about Howard and what he has done. A woman once called him a cutie pie and patted him on the head. It is something most of us have suffered. Howard seized his moment. He removed the finger of the woman using his teeth. The woman screamed like a gibbon. Howard spat the finger on the ground and went for a stroll. About as cool as cool can be! This used to impress us about Howard. But it has been ages since his act of rebellion. He has grown fat and soft. We particularly dislike how he squats at the edge of his cage and stares at Cupcake for hours with a finger in his nose. What do you think he tells that man about Cupcake? We can see that Howard consorts eagerly with the humans. We can see that he likes them too much.
It is different for us. The humans are forced upon us. They wear brown shirts and they cover their asses. They enclose us in chain link. It can be any day, without warning, when Glen comes into the pen and says, Okay, sailor. He pulls out a needle and sticks me in my arm. I wake up three hours later and Greta and Cupcake are laughing at me and my teeth have been cleaned. These things are beyond my control.
We do not choose these humans. But Howard does. Howard has humans that he chooses. The two of them, a man with a silver mane and his shriveled old woman. They come every so often. The man has a look in his eye. He wants things.
They come, these humans, and Melinda lumbers over and unlocks the pen and the humans walk right into the pen where Howard is kept. And Howard allows it! Howard saunters up to them and he is nothing but excited. He cannot contain his excitement! Perhaps this is because Howard does not have females to protect? Perhaps this is because Howard is wrong in the head? It is a shameful display, this display by Howard.
The humans scrunch up their hairless faces. They say, We have missed you, dear Howard!
He replies, I know, I know, me too, and I have got an ache you will not believe.
Can you imagine! And we can tell he is flapping his gums about our females, and especially about Cupcake, because we have seen Howard gazing at her with his finger in his nose . He screeches excitedly at the humans and flops his traitorous paws against the chain link and sometimes the man with the silver mane turns and looks in our direction. This is what we call the giveaway.
Howard is no great ape. He betrays us. The man, he looks in our direction.
We smell what he wants.
WE DO NOT have fortune enough to remember how we came here. We do not know where our females came from. Maybe they came with us. We measure our lives in days and the days we can remember belong to this place. But we feel that everything we know is somehow wrong. Some trick has been played. The wind goes whisper, whisper, whisper in the trees beyond the hill and there blooms the hint of something different in the fuzz of our brains. Something before vast, heavy Melinda and her cages. Something about being held by another chimpanzee and knowing it. Dark, soft fur enveloping us. Leaves that blot out the sky. Dead vines tangled on the ground. The feel of knotted trunks against our palms. A home among the branches. Grubs on a log. If we stretch our long arms back far enough, maybe we can touch it, this sense of something different. We take our life of mesh and bars as it is given, but we know something is amiss. We are creatures who belong outside these cages. The certainty of this presses against our insides.
These humans that hover about, they keep a close watch. Glen comes in to brush our teeth and stick us in the arm with long needles. The pain of the piercing metal flares white and then there is nothing to know for hours. Melinda erects the fences and keeps us locked up within them. Arnold collects our feces from the ground. All of them, they tell us when to sleep and when to wake. But look at us and see what we are. We are chimpanzees, nothing less.
Our hands are hands. Our feet are hands. We stand whichever way we choose. We can climb very great heights. We are powerful. The muscles in our arms are made of steel.
IT IS GROVER who notices the door. He is on his buttocks in the dirt. His left arm is wrapped around Greta, who dozes with her head on his shoulder. Cupcake hangs by one foot and one arm from the latticework overhead. I am squishing ants with my toes. One, two, three at a time. Far away there is the crashing of air against leaves. I can hear it in my limbs.
Grover smacks his lips together. He looks in my direction and shows me all his teeth. It is a joking kind of gesture that we share between us. He raises his right arm and then drops it to the ground. Then he grows still and says, Holy feces. The door is open!
And he is right. The door is open.
The man Arnold has been in the cage to scoop up our excrement, but he is gone. There are no humans to be seen. It is quiet. There is the sound of the wind, but that is the only noise we can discern.
There is a great dizzy feeling.
Like something falling away.
Cupcake scrambles up to the top of the pen, to what we consider the lookout. If she presses up against the mesh she can see all the way down to the trailer where Melinda sleeps. And she does. She drops back down, excitedly. She says, It is all clear, it is all clear, it is all clear. Over and over, while leaping up and down, but quietly, so as not to attract the humans. And Greta chimes in, Let us go, let us go, let us go. And the trees, the far off trees beyond the hill, they have figured it out, too, and they whisper at us most emphatically.
Grover and I, we are hesitant. This is called instinct. Suddenly there is a big open space in front of us. We know we are the males, and it is our job to protect these females. Who knows what dangers await us out there? Who knows what kind of men are lurking around the corner, yearning to violate their sweet hairy chimpanzee asses? But, oh, it is so sweet, we can hear all of the wide world summoning us as well. It is irresistible, this call. Hah-loooo, goes the call, carried in the ripple of the wind. You are chimpanzees, my friends. You have strong arms and opposable toes. You belong to the trees and the dirt and the air.
It draws us forward, this call. Our knuckles scrape the dark ground. It is enormity.
We creep our way over and we press our shoulders against the chain link barrier. The door creaks outward. Then, whoops, yes, it is open. The world beyond the door says, Come, be what you are.
And so we head for the trashcans. We search first for candy bars.
Chocolate is delicious!
THE MAN BRINGS Howard a birthday cake. No one has ever brought us birthday cake. Did anyone ever consider that perhaps we would like it? Even though we do not know when our birthdays are?
Well, the answer is yes. We would like birthday cake. Yes we would.
We root around in the trashcans, picking at decayed food. We hear the soft crunch of tires on parking lot gravel. We hear it after we really hear it. We do not recognize the noise at first. We are busy lifting potato chip wrappers to our mouths and licking out their silvery innards. Gradually, the noise we have heard makes sense to us, and we scramble behind the trashcans to hide.
Melinda waddles up the path, with the treacherous man with the silver mane and his shriveled old woman. The man holds the birthday cake in his forearms. Melinda moves to let them into the pen where Howard is kept. But then she gasps and drops her keys. She has seen that we are gone from our cage. She excuses herself and jogs away, her pathetic bulk bouncing. Where she is going, I do not know. What can she do? We are loose now. We can do whatever we please. Plus, we are hiding here behind the trashcans. There is no way she is going to find us.
But where are our females?
That is the thing. Our females are gone.
Grover and I poke around the trashcans going, Ladies! Ladies! But they are not there. We can hear the wind in the trees beyond the hill. Whisper, whisper, whisper. Have the ladies become too excited? Have they made for the trees while we dug through the trash for food? We were acquiring food for them! That is what males do. And this is how they repay us! It is not very good behavior. It is very rude! But also I am scared. Because we are males. It is our job to protect our females from this new open world and now I do not know where they have gone.
It dawns on us slowly.
The females are gone and the man is here. We know what he wants. Of this we have long been aware. We have been watching him. We have seen the way he looks at our females. We know what will happen if he finds them.
This, you see, is unacceptable.
We see the man standing over there by the pen where Howard is kept. He balances the cake in his arms and scratches a foot in the dirt, waiting. He looks around. His eyes are scanning. He knows the females are loose. We know he knows it. We know he means to seize the opportunity. We know this without knowing. And thus we know our responsibilities. We will show him who belongs to whom. We put our knuckles into the dirt and propel ourselves forward. We swing our feet around and plant them and move and then around come the arms and we move forward again. This is how it is done.
We say, Ladies, do not worry.
We scramble toward destiny.
WE TAKE HIS testicles first. This is a statement. The females are ours. They are ours alone. How dare you come here with your glances! we say. It is against God, what you are thinking! You will not be using any of this equipment where our ladies are concerned!
We are the males. This is our business.
Grover is busy with the human woman. No harm is intended to her. We just want to get her out of the way. We think without thinking. We operate. Grover scrambles up her trunk and twists his fingers into her face. He sinks his teeth into her shoulder. We hear tendons snap. A wound. She will scream and flail and crumple.
Howard throws himself violently against the inside of his cage. Poor, useless Howard, betrayer of our kind. He screeches. No. No no no no no. We let him screech.
I am up in the air. My arms are around the man. My teeth sink into his crotch. Instantly, my mouth is warm with sticky blood. It is like I am crushing a fruit in my jaws and the juice is spraying all over. It runs down our fronts, where I am wrapped around the man.
I get the testicles. I somehow miss the other. Not that this is a big deal. My point has been made. This man will be doing nothing whatsoever to Greta and Cupcake. He will not be at them anytime soon. He will never be at them. In fact, I warrant he will never dare to think about sweet hairy chimpanzee asses again. And here is what is also important: the pain I cause gets the man on the ground. We have removed his advantage. He does not tower over us any longer. He is ours.
As the man drops, I release my hold and roll away. When I right myself, I see that Grover is gnashing and tearing at the feet of the man. Which is brilliant! Never again will he loom over us if he has no feet for standing! We are clever chimpanzees. The lessons we are teaching this man will not be forgotten.
The man is gurgling. Something in his throat.
His woman screams and screams.
The cage of Howard vibrates with the force of his useless protests. His pathetic squealing. Howard. He forces his fat fingers through the mesh and he cries like a child.
Before I join Grover, I decide I will do something about the soft pink face. I am tired of looking at pink faces. Ruddy. Abhorrent. Always watching our females. There is no real plan here. I just move over to him. I put my hands on his face and I start mashing pieces around. There is some ripping and squirting. I rock back and forth and I screech a little. It is a visceral feeling. I sing, You just do not mess with the chimpanzee!
It is a song Grover and I made up a couple years back.
You mess with us, just wait and see!
We will crush your skull! Use it for a bowl!
We are the strongest of the strong! See how we roll!
I am full of adrenaline. I hear the way my song mixes with the screams of the human woman. The sun is on my back. It is warm and good. When I look down I see I have taken the nose of the man off his face. Whoops! Who knew that would happen! I lift the nose above my head. I hold it there for a moment, against the sun. Then I put it in my mouth. Salty. I spit it out, back into the pulpy mess of the face of the man. Really, this is just for emphasis. I am telling him, Look again, see what we did. That is what I am saying.
The nose rolls off into the dirt. I scoot down to meet Grover.
He is really going at it with the foot. Grover means business! He is gnawing and pulling and tearing. The blood goes everywhere. I join in and we get most of the meat out of the way. But we have a little trouble with the bone. The bone does not want to give.
Has this been done before? In the history of chimpanzees, has a chimpanzee removed the foot of a man? Who would ever think such a thing could happen? Grover and I know that we are touching something holy. We are reaching for history.
If only the females were here, to see it.
Ah, feces, says Grover. It is Glen.
We see Glen come coming toward us and he looks pretty upset.
I yell, That is right, sailor! You knew this day would come, did you not?
Grover says, Hey! You are next, Glenny boy!
We are still pulling as we taunt Glen. And then suddenly there is a krrrrrrrack and we stumble backwards into the dust. We are gripping the foot of the man and it no longer belongs to him. It is ours, this foot. It is not for the man. It belongs to the chimpanzees. It is ours.
We shout, Hurrah!
And, Eat it, Glen!
Glen raises his arm at us. Grover screams and falls over.
What is this? How do I explain it?
I look up in surprise and then Glen raises his arm again. I move without thinking. This is instinct. I fall in the dirt and roll away. The foot comes free from my hand. I pick it up again. I stand and there is the mass of Melinda coming at us. She has something in her arms. Grover is in the dirt, unmoving. Beside him the man is writhing, kicking up dust with the stump of his leg. The man we have conquered. His blood is just everywhere.
Melinda is coming, coming on. I look up at her and see her gold-white hair in the sun. I raise the foot above my head. With my free hand I indicate the broken man on the ground.
I say, Mother, mother, look.
And then Glen stings me. He stings me, stings me as he has stung Grover. Somehow. He stings me with a needle even though he is not beside me. He is way over there. It is the stingingest needle I have ever felt. The pain burrows through me and I crumple backward and I hold the foot up toward the sky. Look what the chimpanzees can do. It is like the other needles in that everything is hot and white. There is the sense of something before. Leaves, and bark, the knotted tree against our palms. My hand drops to the ground. The foot loose again in the dirt. Soft brown fur, enveloping us. The wind in our coats; the grass under foot, sliding against our knuckles. Over on the hill I can see Greta and Cupcake. I think that I see Greta and Cupcake. Our females. Over on the hill. I see them there. And the trees beyond them whisper, whisper, whisper sweet promises of comfort and joy.
THE MAN IS is after our females. Despite whatever theories may surface to the contrary, you should know this much is true. We are chimpanzees. There are very many things we know.
We have seen heaven. We know now it is a place full of trees.
We are the greatest of apes. We know we are made for climbing.
Photo by Mandy Dunn Sampson